Symbolism, Sculpture, and Cultural Identity

Sculpture and Cultural Identity

Art is an integral component of human society, with culture greatly impacting its production. Art can have an enormously transformative effect on individuals by shaping opinions, instilling values and unveiling experiences.

Sculpture can help establish and foster feelings of cultural and national identity in society. It serves to support, reinforce, and perpetuate these sentiments while uniting disparate elements that would otherwise remain separate.


Symbolism is a way of representing various aspects of reality through art. This method can be employed in sculpture, paintings and other forms of media to represent people, ideologies or religions, topics or other entities. Artists use symbols as an effective way to connect to larger themes while producing more visually striking pieces.

Symbolism was an artistic movement popular during the 19th century that encouraged artists to incorporate more symbolic images in their works of art, serving to bridge Romanticism with modernism. Additionally, Symbolism challenged conventional ideas about materialism while inspiring Surrealism and Expressionism movements.

Jean Moreas coined the term “symbolism” for use by French critic Stephane Mallarme and Paul Verlaine poets in 1886. Symbolism’s aesthetic differed significantly from Impressionism by featuring imaginary dreamworlds with mysterious figures from literature, the Bible and Greek mythology as opposed to naturalism and realism.

Symbolist artists’ works often relied upon biblical and mythological figures for inspiration, though other types of imagery were also common. These images helped them convey emotions such as love, hate, sexual awakening, or unrequited affection.

Gustave Moreau’s Salome Dancing before Herod (1876) and Paul Gauguin’s The Yellow Christ (1889) are two well-known examples of symbolicist art, while other artists who created symbolist work include Arnold Bocklin, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Odilon Redon and Edvard Munch.

Symbolist art depicted women as dangerous and provocative figures – something not commonly done before. These women became known as femme fatales and inspired feelings of danger or temptation in viewers.

Symbolist aesthetics has always had an interest in psychoanalysis and self-introspection, often depicting mirroring faces to symbolize this concept in their artworks.

Symbolism is not only an integral element of artistic expression; it is also an effective means of communicating cultural identity. Artists use symbolism to incorporate their past and current life experiences into their works of art. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo famously used cultural markers from both Mexico and the US in her pieces that depicted her internal struggle when she left her native land behind.

Social Function

Sculpture is the art of crafting three-dimensional forms from materials like clay, wax, plaster or stone to decorate public spaces or tell stories. Sculptors employ tools, gravity and mechanical devices to shape heavy materials into expressive forms that communicate their message.

Sculpture serves a valuable social function beyond being art; it helps connect people and environments more closely. Furthermore, sculpture can serve as a powerful means for social transformation and healing.

Anthropologically speaking, culture refers to an organized body of beliefs, values and traditions passed from generation to generation and which govern social behaviour within a culture. Cultural norms determine social behavior within that culture – which could be religious, political or social values.

Durkheim (1895) defined beliefs, values and norms within cultures as social facts that sociologists study to gain a better understanding of their world.

Society refers to any group of people living together and interacting on a regular basis. Society includes laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs and rituals as elements that define its social facts.

One of the primary pillars of society is its family unit. Families provide essential social benefits to its members.

These benefits of belonging and security may include increased self-esteem and sense of belonging; as well as improving one’s ability to cope with stress and depression and enhance health outcomes.

Families play an invaluable role in socialization – the process by which children acquire language and develop certain values, beliefs and skills. A family’s primary responsibility in this regard is providing for their needs now and for their future success.

Secondary agents of socialisation include education, religion and peer groups. They teach people the norms and values of society they live in while helping children understand right from wrong.

Art is an integral component of culture. It documents experience, enriches humankind, and transforms the world, while helping individuals express their thoughts and opinions regarding their environment.


Representation in sculpture refers to the practice of depicting elements of reality in a way that makes them easily recognizable, using atmospheric perspective and color for realistic depictions. Representing reality through sculpture has long been practiced, with technology keeping pace as production technology has advanced over time.

Representing people, places and objects in an artistic manner forms the core of many forms of art – painting, drawing and sculpture being just three examples – but each art form has different approaches and definitions: for instance paintings tend to use imagery and elements taken directly from life while sculpture focuses more on its subject realism.

Students of representation must recognize that every work of art carries both personal and cultural meaning, as well as social effects. These effects may result from either conscious decisions by composers regarding language and structure or through unconscious reproductions of attitudes, beliefs and values from society at large.

Understanding these complex ideas may be challenging, yet essential in understanding the relationship between representation and culture. Stuart Hall is well known as an influential scholar in cultural studies for his focus on cultural representation.

His theory suggests that everything has its own set of meanings associated with it and these meanings are developed and refined within cultures by people within those societies.

He applies a poststructuralist theory to this field, suggesting that language of representation serves as the medium through which meanings are created and codified. He further believes that representations can be studied broadly as they represent interactions among people, objects and systems.

Representation is an integral component of sculpture and cultural identity research, often used as an instrument to analyze how people construct cultural identities, including how these identity beliefs impact daily lives. Furthermore, representation can also help researchers examine negative social representation on migrant populations who are developing their cultural identities.


Artistic activism is a growing movement where artists use their artistic skills to promote social change through various artistic media such as visual art, music, poetry or theater/film productions. Through artistic activism artists use creative expressions as a way of communicating their beliefs and inspiring others to act on them.

Recently, artists participating in activist movements have increasingly used sculpture to express their viewpoints on specific political and social issues. Some artists, like Ai Weiwei, have even used public protest art to bring awareness to their causes.

Art activism has a rich tradition and serves as an integral tool in raising awareness on important topics. Additionally, this type of art allows artists to connect directly with their audiences.

Ai Weiwei is an artist renowned for using activism through sculpture to raise awareness on important issues that concern him, such as refugee crossings. His installations draw attention to this issue while sparking conversations on it.

Similar to Jizo from Japan’s Kamakura period (1185-1333), who created artwork promoting Pure Land Buddhist sect, which promotes peaceful and compassionate ways of practicing religion, using seemingly minor gestures as symbols of his compassion towards all living things on our planet.

Art can serve an activist function by raising public awareness of issues that are often left unspoken or ignored in society. Works such as Paula Rego’s ‘Abortion Series’ and Jacob Lawrence’s ‘Migration Series’ make these experiences visible for viewers to witness.

There are various forms of activism within sculpture, including public protest art and social movement art. Social movement art tends to be temporary in nature, typically being portable and dispensable – often made up of signs that convey specific causes or messages containing peace symbols or raised fists to symbolize various causes and revolutions.

Activist art may seem ineffective and unsatisfying as a form of activism, since it does not meet traditional criteria of quality and taste. Yet some critics see artivism as an essential way for artists to make statements on certain subjects – often moralistic criticism is difficult to resist!